John  Platt

John Platt worked closely with OEC in the early days, eventually serving as Executive Director of both Oregon League of Environmental Voter (now OLCV) and Oregon Environmental Council (1978-79). Here are his reflections on working with OEC at the start of a growing environmental movement in Oregon.

Working with OEC 1972 to 1979 (excerpt from 2008):

Following my first year of law school at Rutgers University and then a year working with the Puyallup, Nisqually and Muckleshoot Tribes on fishing rights issues, I enrolled at Lewis & Clark Law School in August, 1971. My work with OEC began shortly thereafter.

After spending part of 1970 and 1971 working with the tribes and gaining a new appreciation for the value of legal expertise, I became an enterprising young activist and, at class opening, I was encouraged by Professor Billy Williamson to continue my endeavors by becoming the first executive director of the Northwest Environmental Defense Center and by seeking grant monies from the Oregon Educational Coordinating Council (ECC) for a project on environmental legislation.

I took over as the first paid NEDC executive director and as manager of the grant project in the winter of 1971 – 1972. The objectives of the project were to develop a handbook on environmental legislation and to encourage participation by the public in legislative matters concerning the environment before the 1973 Oregon legislature.

Our first public participation effort focused on convening a workshop on 1973 legislative priorities. OEC Director Larry Williams and Administrative Assistant Judie (Irons) Hansen assisted the effort by providing their mailing list for invitations and by encouraging participation as well as helping to develop the complex agenda and guest list. The OEC, in the years since its formation, had energized environmental leadership and had a great list of volunteers just waiting for the chance to step up to the plate. In addition, five years of attention to the environment had provided OEC with the knowledge it needed to help define the agenda.

The meeting took place at the Lewis & Clark College campus on a cold, sunny, snow-covered day in December, 1972. To our great surprise, about 450 people attended. The participants talked about a variety of issues including fish and wildlife, forestry, and noise and water pollution. Land use was of particular interest because of Governor Tom McCall’s conference during the fall where eco-planning guru Ian McHarg spoke, and the Governor announced plans to seek statewide land use legislation.

Attendees at the conference discussed the issues in panels, set objectives, and agreed to create task forces to address the major issues during the session. On behalf of our ECC project, we agreed to maintain communications via an action newsletter containing information from the task force chairs that was compiled by project assistant Chris Czarnowski and me each week and mailed every Friday to the workshop participants. 

In addition, Chris and I produced a weekly television program on KPTV 12 called “Environmental Issues at the Oregon Legislature.” The program was aired, as I recall, on Sunday evenings during prime time. Topics included statewide land use, light rail transit options, noise pollution, and energy options. Portland downtown planning was another area of attention. I particularly recall a program we produced on light rail that included Multnomah County Chair Don Clark and STOP (Sensible Transportation Options for People) organizer Betty Merten. Betty’s energy and creativity deserves much of the credit for Portland’s light rail system, which today is a model for the nation. Another program that sticks in my memory is statewide land use with guest Senator Norma Paulus, at a time when many Republican legislative members were the environmental champions in Oregon State government. 

When I reflect upon the ECC project at Lewis & Clark, I have to consider the “What hath God wrought?” angle on state participation in this effort. In 1973, the ECC renewed its funding of the L&C project but with a focus on land use and video communications. The objectives of that two-year grant were to publish a Citizens Handbook on Neighborhood Land Use Planning and develop citizen participation video projects in Portland and Coos Bay. The Portland project was focused on the development and structure of neighborhood associations particularly in Portland but it also spawned the public access elements in cable franchise agreements executed by Portland as well as Multnomah and Washington counties with their cable TV suppliers. The Coos Bay project created a strong citizen participation effort on land use in rural areas of Oregon as well as developing the political career of a young video producer named Bill Bradbury. 

I’m not sure what motivated Jebbie Davidson, chairman of the ECC and, as I recall, a former NW Natural executive, to fund such now seemingly radical exercises in participatory democracy. By simply funding the communication process for the budding environmental movement (led by OEC) to engage the Oregon legislature, the ECC set into motion a direction for Oregon. By engaging newly activated citizens through a private education institution and through a broadcaster seeking to fulfill its public affairs commitments and, later, by communicating land use policy through new media technology, ECC’s grants of about $300,000 helped to catapult Oregon into the forefront of states initiating comprehensive environmental policies.

Professor Bill Williamson, a student and teacher of Administrative Law, would find this especially ironic. While most administrative agencies live long beyond their useful lives, the ECC took a different turn. After an arduous attempt to Google the agency, I found one interesting reference:

“The Oregon Education Coordinating Council was reconfigured and renamed the Oregon Educational Coordinating Commission in 1975. That entity eventually morphed into the Office of Educational Policy and Planning in 1987.”

Few references exist after the ECC’s reconfiguration in 1975 other than publication of a report on the 1981 legislature and its education enactments.

OLEV

I believe that in the fall of 1975, I took over the reins of OLEV (Oregon League of Environmental Voters) from Roy Hemmingway, working closely with him to develop ratings for the 1975 legislature. Marion Edey of the League of Conservation Voters in Washington, D.C., was the inspiration for the organization along with Larry Williams who appropriately maintained a shadowy presence in the background of Oregon environmental electoral politics. I believe that my major contribution to the organization, along with developing the 1975 rating sheet before the invention of Excel, was securing Patty Zahler, a graphic artist, to develop a logo. Her creation was the lettering of OLEV developed in the shape of an OLIVE. I think that may have been the reason the organization’s name was changed to Oregon League of Conservation voters.

NW Power Act

In late 1975 or early 1976, I recall hearing Larry discuss showing up for what was intended to be a secret meeting of utility and Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) staff to discuss a new energy bill for the Northwest. The bill would allow the utilities to spread the cost of new nuclear plants and a new hydro policy. At that time, BPA Administrator Sterling Munro said that 13 new plants were necessary to meet skyrocketing demand, whether demand skyrocketed or not. (Believe it or not, that was the gist of what he was saying.) The utilities thought they had a deal on those acquisitions but an adverse tax ruling indicated that the so-called net billing program previously developed would foreclose Public Utility District contributions. BPA was in the process of developing a new policy called the hydrothermal program under the direction of Administrator Don Hodel (later to become Secretary of Energy) during the early- and mid-seventies that would utilize nuclear for base loads and the hydro system for peaking. However, a combination of environmental and tribal challenges to this system was creating big bumps in the road.

A constellation of actions was creating a new impetus for environmental pushback to this move. In Portland, neighborhood activists pierced the veil of regional energy policy in 

order to stop a combustion turbine plant that would pollute their North Portland neighborhoods. A group of Montanans organized a series of conferences across the Northwest on water issues. Another development was a seminal workshop at Menucha organized by Audrey Simmons and the League of Women Voters that brought together activists from throughout the region to consider river projects and developments with particular emphasis upon the impacts on salmon as clearly depicted in a white paper written by Ed Chaney of Eagle, Idaho. Last but not least was the formation of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, an intergovernmental organization formed by the Nez Perce, Warm Springs, Yakama, and Umatilla Tribes, with BPA funding after the tribes had won an important ruling from the Federal District Court of Oregon regarding the impact of the dams on treaty fishing. The Commission was formed under the direction of Roy Sampsel, a Wyandotte Indian from Portland who had previously served as the field campaign manager for Bob Packwood’s successful Senate campaign in 1967.

When I took over from Larry at OEC after he moved to the Sierra Club in the spring of 1978, Jim Blomquist of the Club somehow finagled me on to the witness list of the House Interior Subcommittee on Water and Power to discuss the Northwest Power bill. My testimony focused on conservation and the potential impacts of the hydrothermal program in terms of nuclear power dangers and economics as well as the impact on salmon. Little did I realize that much of my later career would focus on the Northwest Power Act, and that bill became my first major issue upon accepting work at the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in December, 1979.

OEC Executive Director

My work as an employee of OEC began after I had served as lobbyist for 1000 Friends of Oregon during the 1977 legislative session followed by a year at Portland City Hall working for Commissioner Mildred Schwab. I served as the OEC executive director from about May 1978 to October, 1979 at the Water Street address while Elizabeth Furse and I lived just across the Ross Island Bridge approach on Corbett Avenue. The pace was fast and furious and the issues included regional energy policy as noted above, the banning of the herbicide 2,4,5T from federal forests, federal roadless area policy, the disposition of Ross Island, and numerous issues at the 1979 Oregon Legislative Session. OEC and its executive director were media darlings, earning electronic media stories almost every week and clippings galore. I even developed a weekly radio program that I hosted until 1993.

My work with OEC was rich with experience and warm relationships. The environmental movement in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest had taken on a well-deserved iconic status and was utilizing the wisdom of its veterans and the energy of its younger professionals to identify and resolve natural resource conflicts and enact new policy. As new conflicts developed, advocates created local organizations to address them and OEC was often called upon to assist in publicizing the issues and reaching the governmental agencies that had the authority to resolve them.

Through the work of my elders, at the time of my involvement, OEC had just achieved credibility as the single statewide organization focusing solely on Oregon environmental protection. At that time, new statewide organizations such as the Oregon Wilderness Coalition (now ONRC), the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, the Oregon Natural Desert Association and Oregon Trout were developing around specific issue interests and, as they addressed new issues, OEC seemed able to expand its mission by broadening its educational mission to fill critical public knowledge gaps. 


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